Psychological perspectives on interrogation

Aldert Vrij, Christian A. Meissner, Ronald P. Fisher, Saul M. Kassin, Andy Morgan III, Steven M. Kleinman

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Proponents of “enhanced interrogation techniques” in the United States have claimed that such methods are necessary for obtaining information from uncooperative terrorism subjects. In the present article, we offer an informed, academic perspective on such claims. Psychological theory and research shows that harsh interrogation methods are ineffective. First, they are likely to increase resistance by the subject rather than facilitate cooperation. Second, the threatening and adversarial nature of harsh interrogation is often inimical to the goal of facilitating the retrieval of information from memory and therefore reduces the likelihood that a subject will provide reports that are extensive, detailed, and accurate. Third, harsh interrogation methods make lie detection difficult. Analyzing speech content and eliciting verifiable details are the most reliable cues to assessing credibility; however, to elicit such cues subjects must be encouraged to provide extensive narratives, something that does not occur in harsh interrogations. Evidence is accumulating for the effectiveness of rapport-based information-gathering approaches as an alternative to harsh interrogations. Such approaches promote cooperation, enhance recall of relevant and reliable information, and facilitate assessments of credibility. Given the available evidence that torture is ineffective, why might some laypersons, policymakers, and interrogation personnel support the use of torture? We conclude our review by offering a psychological perspective on this important question.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)927-955
Number of pages29
JournalPerspectives on Psychological Science
Issue number6
Early online date21 Sept 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2017


  • law application
  • interrogation
  • lie detection
  • interviewingmemory
  • social cognition


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